To recapitulate the events described in the last few paragraphs of the previous chapter, Balwant had woken up with a start on hearing the soft cries from Varun. Although he was not sure about the time, he guessed it was possibly around 4.00 A.M. That would be a few hours since they had begun sharing his bed, very soon after the cacophony of the rampaging thunder had subsided. Now, however, it was calm outside. He was certain that the baby was crying in hunger and had earnestly made attempts to awaken his daughter-in-law.
Sonam, startled at being shaken out of her sleep, had got up quickly and, holding Varun in her arms, shyly expressing her embarrassment to feed her son in front of her father-in-law. She tried to find excuses, wanting to go to her own bedroom and feed the infant in privacy.
“Babuji… sho ..should I …I g ggo to the other room?” she stammered, wondering if Babuji would excuse himself and leave the room on his own to save her from embarrassment.
“No Bahu, you feed Varun here, on the bed. Don’t feel shy. You are a mother who is going to feed her baby and that’s natural. Come, sit on the bed and take the baby on your lap,” he said, trying to make her easy and to settle comfortably on his bed. Sonam stayed where she was, uncomfortably shifting on the bed and wondering how she could explain what was in her mind.
The patriarch was quick to understand Sonam’s uneasiness in feeding her baby. Even if they had proceeded to stay together in one room and sleep side by side on the master bed, it was another thing for Sonam to part her flimsy nightie and give her nipple to her baby right in front of her father-in-law. He should have realised this, Balwant thought, instead of inconsiderately insisting on her staying in that very room itself to suckle her baby. He rebuked himself inwardly but, at the same time, he made an instant arrangement so that she could at least partially overcome her uneasiness.
Like a considerate father-in-law, he got up, reached into his cupboard, and brought out a thin towel, often called “angocha” in rural India. Made of handloom cotton, it had stripes over its body and the fabric was light in weight. It was big enough to cover the upper portion of Sonam’s body, including her breasts where she would be holding her child while he suckled.
“Here …,” he offered it to Sonam to provide her a semblance of privacy.
Relief from impending embarrassment was written on Sonam’s face as she gratefully accepted the towel, realising quickly that it would help her to cover her taut, dripping nipples and breasts overflowing with milk. She quickly wrapped the towel in the front of her body, running it over her shoulders, breasts and covering her lap too. Balwant saw her working under the towel, as if to open the front buttons of her nightie to release her breasts. Her face still registered the uneasiness and awkwardness in the task in hand, considering their relationship as a bahu (daughter-in-law) and father-in-law.
Having covered her bosom and, with Varun lying cosily on her lap, Sonam held her nipple to the baby’s thirsty mouth. Varun started feeding instantly and suckling sounds could be heard by the patriarch who sat beside her bahu.
It was a wonderful picture of a lactating mother holding her baby and feeding her milk from her overflowing breasts. Honestly, Sonam’s pair was literally about to burst. The patriarch had been pampering his Bahu with the most nutritious food ever since she had returned from Patna. There too, she was fed properly by her own mother. As they always say, the baby gets her nutrition from the mother … feed the mother and you feed the child. No wonder that Sonam’s breasts were too full of healthy milk. And there was enormous relief for Sonam when her baby started to draw out the milk from her swollen breasts, heavy and painful as they were. Caringly, she arranged Varun’s hair, even kissing the baby’s head that was partly visible. The rest of the child lay hidden underneath the ‘angocha’.
Sonam looked up from the child to her father-in-law who kept looking at her intently. Sonam felt grateful to the man for taking so much care of her. She felt happy and seemed to be overcoming the loneliness that she initially felt when Rajesh left. Any bahu would have felt very uneasy in such a situation before her father-in-law, but Sonam had a look of contentment in front of this rugged man. She felt cared, protected and loved, and an overwhelming sense of gratitude expressed itself in her eyes. But for this man and the warmth and care that he offered in a much-needed privacy, she would have felt helpless with her infant son. Both kept quiet, each looking at each other now and then. Sometimes, they smiled when their eyes met, without uttering any word for a while.
“You are okay now, Bahu?” the patriarch suddenly asked, trying to break the stony silence.
Sonam, with a shy smile on her face and lips, nodded her head and said politely, “Ji (yes).”
“Varun seems to be happy now,” he said, and she went red with embarrassment without any apparent reason. To Sonam, however, the child’s present ‘happiness’ was due to her overflowing breasts and she inferred that her Babuji might have alluded to this pair.
But she still nodded her head.
“You have given me a lovely grandson, Bahu,” the patriarch said after a moment, “and brought good fortune to this family.”
She looked up at him. Her face didn’t hide her happiness at the compliment, and she nodded.
“I know you are taking good care of my grandson. Your child will always feel secured beside you wherever he is,” he went on talking to keep the conversation going, “but I felt concerned at his shrieks. A grandfather’s feelings and concerns, you know. I hope you didn’t mind my intrusion in the middle of the night.”
She nodded smilingly. “No, Babuji. I am happy that you came. I was terrified at the thought of being alone. I am terrified of lightning and the deafening thunder sounds that accompany. It is something that has grown since my childhood and I could never overcome this fear. I am feeling better being here in this room with someone around.”
Sonam was being honest. Indeed, she was being drawn more and more to the charisma of this man. There was no more inhibition in sharing this man’s room, sleeping on his bed, suckling her baby in front of him … everything that usually a wife would be prepared to do if the man was her husband. Only thing was that there had to be absolute privacy for, no matter what, they would have to be discreet, and no one should know that they shared one room.
As a bahu, she would be very embarrassed if anyone in the haveli knew about this. She thought of requesting her father-in-law to maintain this privacy but then hesitated. Who was she to suggest? The man was far too elder and would surely know the necessity of discretion, of not letting others in the family have the slightest inkling that the master of the house and a father-in-law shared his bed with his young bahu. True, this was only for the benefit of the child and her mother, but hardly a valid reason for sleeping on the same bed.
Sonam was a bit unmindful when she was thinking about the necessity of privacy but quickly her attention riveted to the baby who seemed to have fallen asleep. No matter how much she tried, Varun would not awaken and Sonam was worried. The baby had fed on only one breast while the other remained untouched and full.
She was already feeling the pain that accompanied her full breasts and if Varun didn’t draw on the milk and ease her discomfort she would feel awful after a while. She prodded her baby a few times, shaking him firmly and even uttering his name to awaken him, but it didn’t serve any purpose. She felt helpless and it was her helplessness that made her turn towards the patriarch sitting right beside her. He possibly sensed her discomfort and asked her if everything was alright.
“Bahu… ummm … is anything bothering you?” The voice didn’t hide his genuine anxiety.
Sonam looked up with a concerned face and said, “He is not feeding anymore.”
“He must be full then. I think you should let him sleep,” he said in conclusion.
“But…” Sonam tried to intervene.
“He might not have been very hungry, Bahu.” He offered an explanation to his bahu.
But she kept on trying to move her son around, patting his back underneath the thin cover, but to no avail. “He is just being naughty. He isn’t feeding anymore.” Her eyes betrayed discomfort and helplessness.
It was then that the discussion between Sonam and her father-in-law turned to something that’s usually shared between a wife and her husband or, in some cases, between a mother and her daughter. Sonam was surprised how gradually she was able to answer these questions despite her shyness. Possibly this was because the man was so very caring to and warm towards Sonam. He was now sitting just beside her. Their bodies touched one another now and then, but no one made any attempt to move away.
At one stage the patriarch asked her softly, “Bahu, are you being fully relieved?”
Such an embarrassing subject and Sonam was red in the face at first. She only shook her head.
When the man asked if she had discussed this with the doctor, she answered that she did, and then told the patriarch exactly what the doctor had said.
“…he is needing less for a few days while I am producing more,” Sonam said. The moment she said this she looked once at the patriarch, and then looked away.
Sitting on the bed, Balwant absorbed what his bahu had just said.
“And does it cause discomfort bahu?” the patriarch followed up, trying to get to the root of the current situation.
Sonam looked very embarrassed and in discomfort, but she could realise that this man was her protector and she had to answer. Yet, something came over Sonam and rather than addressing him as ‘Babuji’ which was a respectable way to address her father-in-law, she made it more personal, dear and loveable by addressing him as ‘papa’, just like a daughter would.
“Yes. papa. It becomes very full, bloated and very painful,” she said, and already there were tears in her eyes because of the pain.
Balwant, at first, was surprised at this sudden change in her way of addressing him. Papa is what one would prefer calling to his or her own father, not usually to a father-in-law. But, Balwant suppressed his surprise, didn’t question her, making her feel that it was a natural expression. In any case, he liked hearing it.
“And when he does not take a full feed, they bloat and are painful,” she said almost in tears. “It hurts, papa.”
“And what did the doctor say about this?” he went on with his salvo of embarrassing questions.
Sonam went silent. She did not know how to respond.
“Bahu…,” He said in a soft whisper, full of feeling and certain there would be valid explanation.
She remained silent, unable to open out further, till the patriarch goaded her again.
“Bahu…,” his voice becoming a little firmer, “you must tell me …or else how would I help you?”
“The doctor said…the doctor said…that the pressure is because of more milk … only lessening the load would bring relief when these are so overly full.”
“Relief? You mean when the child is not feeding on them?” He indicated her breasts with a movement of his head and eyes.
Sonam nodded her head shyly before she said, “Yes, I was told to relieve it … mmmyself”
“How?” There was quizzical look on Balwant’s face.
“The doctor said… to do it wi …with my ha… hands,” Sonam stammered, “or, or… pumping, may be with someone’s help.” She hid her face in her hands.
Balwant realised that it was taking her bahu a lot of courage to share such an intimate and private matter with her father-in-law.
Sonam’s voice was muffled by her hands covering her mouth and face, but Balwant could still hear her bursting into tears and say “And now … now even Rajesh is not here… oh! what will I do … I feel so lonely. Oh! why did he have to leave me?”
The patriarch was overwhelmed on hearing the bahu’s predicament and sorrow. His concern for her and, at the same time, a simmering excitement merged somewhere in his thoughts.
Just then Sonam felt a hand on her shoulder at first and then the hand went across and slid down her naked arm where, just before her elbow, it rested. The patriarch pulled his bahu towards him, and then with the other hand raised her chin.
“Don’t cry bahu, please,” he said seriously but with lots of love, “I’ll feel bad. Remember, I am here to help you and I promise I’ll always do so.” From the chin the hand went up and wiped the tears. With the other hand that was on Sonam’s arm he pulled her towards him. Sonam too was taken in by this gesture and laid her head on his chest, crying on the man’s kurta that soon became wet. The patriarch patted her back, trying to comfort her.
“Come, come Bahu, stop crying. You know your tears are hurting me,” Balwant said.
In a while, trying to take control of herself but still sobbing a little, Sonam murmured without looking up, “How will you help me papa in this pain?” Having seen her father-in-law’s recent concern about her, Sonam believed that he would find a solution to mitigate her pain and discomfort even now.
“I don’t make false promises to my bahu. If you don’t feel too bad, I’ll give you the relief. No, don’t feel shy … don’t hesitate with someone who you just now called papa. I’ll take as much milk as you can give,” the patriarch said. He squeezed her arms and with the other, pressed her hand.
“What! Hey Bhagwan (Oh god)!” Sonam could only say at first, shock at hearing the suggestion. The idea was so bizarre that she shook in the man’s arms and he, in turn, patted her on the back trying to reassure her, make her free and easy.
“Yes bahu. I’ll have no hesitation in drinking the warm milk from your breasts,” he said but Sonam could make out traces of lust in the voice. This was the first time that the patriarch had used the word ‘breasts’. She shivered at the thought but soon realised that her body and mind were already receptive to this idea.
Eventually, to Sonam, these words now seemed to be a boon, for the relief that it would bring and, no matter how ridiculous the idea was, no matter how hesitant she had been, it excited her. She rubbed her head in the man’s chest, warming up to him and there could be no doubt in Balwant’s mind that she had concurred and would be willing to offer her full breasts to his already greedy mouth. He felt an instant hardness simply thinking about it.
“May I see your breasts, bahu? See how full they are?” he asked openly now. His bahu’s silent and subdued willingness had given him the licence to ask these questions freely.
“I am ashamed, papa,” Sonam said, her face still dug into his big chest. She still hid the fact that she too wanted the burly patriarch to suckle her breasts.
“There’s nothing to be ashamed of Bahu. No one will know …only you and me, in the privacy of this bedroom,” he said.
“Come bahu, let me lie on your soft lap. Pick up Varun and place him on the bed since he is asleep.” Sonam could make out the uncontrolled passion in that voice that merged with her own rising emotion and excitement.
Sonam waited for a while, letting her shyness dissolve in her rising excitement before she had caringly placed Varun on the bed. In the process of doing so, both her hands were occupied, and she could helplessly feel the ‘angocha’ slip away from her breasts, undraping that which a woman would never expose to anyone other than her husband. Placing Varun on the bed, she quickly tried to retrieve the piece, but her father-in-law would have nothing of it. He held her hands, preventing her from covering herself, and silently admonished her with a shake of his head.
Balwant stared intently at the breasts and the nipples that protruded out from the middle of her light brown areola. He stared admiringly, much to Sonam’s discomfort and she blushed profusely, not able to look anywhere other than staring only at her child.
“Which one is paining the most?” she heard him asking. She hesitated, too ashamed to open her mouth and speak, pretending to be busy in attending Varun. But the man was insistent.
“Which one bahu?” he implored again. And then, without the slightest hesitation, he had extended his big, rough hands and tenderly touched the right breast, squeezing it a bit to check the tenderness.
“Babujiiii!” Sonam cried out. Was it pain? Was it shock? Did it express a feeling totally different from pain or shock? No one, no male hand, had ever touched Sonam’s breasts other than her husband’s. It was a natural reaction at first, but she kept silent after that initial reaction, knowing the futility of protesting to this man when inwardly she too felt a tingling sensation run down her body. He squeezed a bit again.
“Ahhhh!” She heard her father-in-law exclaiming.
Sonam couldn’t know if this exclamation by the patriarch signified his concern for her or, she thought shyly, expressed a feeling of his pleasure.
He asked quickly, “Does that hurt?”
Sonam just nodded her head. This intimate behaviour of a man and a woman bordered on sensuality. It was not just a question of pain but something sublime, something enacted between a desirous couple. He pressed again, touching the nipple head with his coarse thumb, index and middle fingers, pressing it ever so lightly. Was he really examining the pain or something else? A doctor wouldn’t dare do this, thought Sonam, but here was her father-in-law doing exactly that without the slightest hesitation whatsoever.
Even the gentle touches hurt Sonam. But she didn’t move away, didn’t express any tone of denial or abhorrence. As if, inwardly, she seemed to bask in the attention that her breasts received from this rugged, dark, strong, middle aged man. Yes, she blushed and felt embarrassed and shy. True she was hesitant and was yet to be totally free. But these were natural of her. Ultimately, however, allowing these intimate touches meant that she had almost willingly surrendered to the illicit nature to which this relation was now almost certainly headed.
The patriarch and the young ravishing woman looked at each other frequently, even while the big, dark hand rested on and tested the fair, engorged breasts. Sonam blushed, for she could make out the lust in the man’s eyes no matter how caring he was. He was pressing the conical shapes, drawing them out so that the milk would flow. He was going by his instincts as a farmer, something he had been required to do so often in the past, right from his teens. And now, while he attended to his lovely bahu, she breathed heavily.
At one point, when her soft moans were still imperceptible, a few drops squirted out and fell on the man’s naked chest.
“We are there now, bahu,” her father-in-law whispered excitedly. But the result was still far from satisfactory and, barring those few initial squirts, her breasts refused to part with the abundant milk that she still held inside. Both the patriarch and his bahu were now perplexed, a bit unsure of themselves and what they should be doing, because what came to mind was truly unthinkable to Sonam if not for both. Till finally, overcoming the awkwardness, the patriarch broke the ice.
“Your doctor asked you to get someone’s help. Let me be the one, let me relieve you of the pain in the manner necessary,” he said, his voice hoarse and shaking. It was obvious to Sonam what that implied, and she was red in the face, shaking her head in refusal, out of shame. She wished she could hide her face.
Balwant gripped her arm with one hand while the other hand still held one breast. Then, very sternly he spoke out, “Bahu … this is not the time to feel shy.” Whatever resistance Sonam had in her was lost against this steely voice. She surrendered.